The biggest difference between Harry Berger and Hanneke Grootenboer was the lenses through which they examined their respective paintings. Berger primarily uses history as the backdrop of his critique and observation, while Grootenboer says, “I do not intend to merely make a historical argument about early modern portraits. Instead, I want to make a theoretical argument as to how theatricality as an analytical tool can help us unpack subjectivity as performance in portrait paintings” (Grootenboer 323). Berger prefaces his arguments with a historical account of the time period and explains the role of the militia in the war between the Dutch and the Spanish. Grootenboer, on the other hand, dives into an account of the conceptualization of theater in the West. It is important to note, however, that Berger gives detailed explanations of the theatrical nature of many of the figures in the Night Watch. He points to extreme dramatization in many of the poses as well as how many of the figures flaunt their most attractive physical attributes.
Grootenboer focuses on the exploration of, “two meanings of the word exposition: as the positioning of the subject’s exteriority in front of an audience; and, in an extension reversal of the idea, as its dislocation, its ex-position” (Grootenboer 323). I enjoyed reading her unique perspective because Grootenboer explains that what is not shown or depicted is just as meaningful as what is shown. She discusses faint floors and dull backgrounds symbolizing isolation and loneliness and goes on to explain the significance of an artist painting an expressionless face in a later portrait. Grootenboer offers interesting insights on the meaning of small theatrical attributes, without making grandiose historical claims. Berger places much of his focus on the historical significance and symbolism of small features like a man holding a musket by resting, as opposed to gripping, the stock which was not the proper way to use a musket. Some argue Rembrandt was merely ignorant about guns, but Berger sites Carroll who contends that Rembrandt was, “deliberately exposing a contradiction between an ideal of military conduct and its flawed execution” (Berger 190).
Berger begins his essay with a remarkably casual tone, that I honestly found a bit irritating, but transitions to a more professional tone after the first few pages. Berger also assumes a large degree of ignorance on the part of his reader (which is a good thing) and spends a great deal of time discussing and explaining the history that supports his respective arguments. Grootenboer writes more traditionally throughout her essay and does not excessively quote other writers or devote a great deal of time to discussing history like Berger. Her tone is always professional and she has a strong introductory hook that sets the stage for the remainder of the writing.
The biggest difference I noticed between Westermann and Berger and Grootenboer was her more traditional, almost textbook, style of writing. She is more direct and less flamboyant, while Grootenboer, and particularly Berger, use flare and pomp in their writing. Westermann, like Berger, writes extensively about the historical significance of specific objects within paintings. Westermann, at least in the introduction, limits her speculation and does not delve into minute details like the symbolism of a hand on a musket (which I felt was grasping at straws). Focusing on the meaning of animals and outfits is much simpler and logical. I genuinely enjoy reading Westermann and Grootenboer, but Berger’s style was a bit over the top for my liking.